As our team peruses over 600 applications for the 2023 Future Leaders Climate Summit, we want to take some time to introduce you to some of the members from our past cohorts of leaders who have helped turn the Future Leaders Climate Summit into a successful and meaningful endeavor. The Summit brings together individuals between the ages of 18 and 30 who have demonstrated an interest in climate change and sustainability issues.
In this first spotlight of many, meet Robert Fetell!
This article was originally published by the Aspen Institute's Energy and Environment Program.
What does being a leader mean to you?
Great leaders inspire people from many different backgrounds to join hands and take on the biggest challenges of our time. My objective as a leader is to align engineers, social entrepreneurs, businesses, governments, and scientists around designing and building a more sustainable world.
As a civil and geotechnical engineering graduate student, I’ve discovered that the best ideas come from groups, especially those with diverse sets of personal and professional skills and backgrounds, and oftentimes from individuals who are typically less outspoken. Leadership is not about certainty. It’s about being keenly aware of the lapses in your knowledge – from small gaps to gaping holes – and drawing upon the brainpower of your teammates in order to fill them.
Leadership is about trusting your partners and teammates, even when your first instinct says they’re wrong. The best leaders get the most out of their teams because they listen closely, give generously with their time, and have faith in the capabilities of the people they work with.
Can you tell us about your most meaningful climate project to date?
While working remotely during the pandemic, I looked to join a resilience-focused organization of like-minded young people. It didn’t exist, so I founded one: the Resilience Youth Network. RYN is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that supports the career and advocacy goals of young thought leaders in the resilience space. Our mission is to “Develop the next generation of climate resilience leaders by connecting our members with resources, facilitating networks, and providing them opportunities for action.” Today, our 180+ members in 12 countries are united by the shared goal of prioritizing climate resilience action across our diverse careers.
Most recently, RYN launched our very own Fellowship, a weekly virtual program that trains an international cohort of young people to become climate resilience advocates in their communities.
What is one climate solution you are most excited about right now?
Direct Air Capture (DAC) carbon dioxide mineralization. The scientific community is in broad consensus that curtailing fossil energy production alone is not enough to achieve current climate targets without the direct removal of significant amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere. Since beginning research as a PhD-track student at MIT, I’ve become particularly excited by the rapid rate of innovation in solid-phase carbon dioxide removal (CDR) technologies.
DAC – which stores CO2 either geologically or via mineralization – is widely regarded as the most verifiable form of carbon dioxide removal, with mineralization being the only known form of DAC that is truly permanent (beyond 1,000 years). Distinct from physical CO2 storage through injection in sedimentary formations, DAC via mineralization chemically incorporates atmospheric CO2 into carbonate minerals (calcite, dolomite, magnesite, etc.), which are indefinitely stable over geologic time scales.
How did attending the 2022 Future Leaders Climate Summit and inaugural Aspen Ideas: Climate impact how you will move through the climate space in the future?
The Future Leaders Climate Summit connected me with some amazingly talented young people, gave me opportunities to meet and discuss ideas with global leaders in business, philanthropy, and all levels of government, and even helped me land a summer internship at NextEra Energy, the world’s largest producer of wind and solar power.
My Future Leaders cohort has become a persisting network of friends and collaborators. In fact, two Future Leaders I met – Samantha Cristol and Lauren Kobayashi – are now on the executive board of the Resilience Youth Network and leading critical new initiatives. Sam launched and now runs RYN’s new bi-monthly blog “Building Better,” and Lauren manages our internal and external communications.
What do you want other young people in the climate space to know that will help them as they progress through their careers?
We are ALL in the climate space. Whether you’re an engineer, scientist, investor, risk manager, policymaker, or lawyer – each and every global citizen is impacted by climate change, and has the opportunity to prioritize it in their career.
A whole economy is growing out of the pressing need to build a more sustainable future. There’s never been a better time to pursue a socially-responsible career.